After "Who won?," "Who looked a mess on the red carpet?," and "What moments were .gif-worthy?," the thing most people want to know about the Oscars is "How did the host do?" So. How did SethMacFarlane do as host of the 85th Academy Awards?
Let me preface this by noting that I am not a fan of Seth MacFarlane's work. I have seen enough episodes of Family Guy to know that, while it certainly includes its fair share of great jokes and visual gags, it's not my thing. I've watched maybe two episodes of American Dad. I don't know if The Cleveland Show is still on air. I didn't watch Ted because the previews were designed to let me know it wasn't for me. And this, I think, is something that makes MacFarlane an odd choice for a host: He caters -- and he caters very well -- to a specific demographic, a demographic that doesn't usually tune in to watch the Academy Awards. And perhaps that was by design. But, in any case: I do generally watch the Awards. And I don't enjoy MacFarlane.
So keep this in mind when I tell you that I thought he made a truly abysmal host.
His intro was fairly par for the course -- a joke over the Academy's apparent snub of Argo director Ben Affleck (a film "so top secret that film's director is unknown to the Academy," he said), a joke about last year's best actor winner, The Artist's Jean Dujardin, not being able to make it in "the talkies," and best foreign film winner Amour being "This is 90."
Then William Shatner (yes) appeared to participate in an incredibly meta sketch about how the internet (That's us! Weird!) would rate MacFarlane's job as host. He threw out some jokes about Django Unchained being a date movie for Chris Brown and Rihanna, and another about the script -- laden with "the n-word" -- being based on Mel Gibson's voicemails. He shared a song about all the actresses whose breasts we've seen onscreen, performed a skit where the punchline involved confusing two different black actors (Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy, specifically), and made out with Sally Field after coming on to her while wearing a nun's habit. The overall joke, of course, was that edgy jokes are polarizing and that the internet hates everything.
There was, then, a joke about 9-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis being able to date George Clooney in 16 years, and about women "[giving] themselves the flu" to fit into their Oscar dresses. And there was a joke about Jewish people running Hollywood. And a joke about not being able to understand actress Salma Hayek.
But here's the thing: Anticipating criticism does not make you immune from it.
And it's not that MacFarlane's jokes weren't funny (that's entirely subjective, and enough people on my Twitter feed loved him that I know that isn't completely true), it's that they weren't new or fresh or anything your uncle wouldn't have said over Thanksgiving dinner while other family members rolled their eyes and prayed to whatever being available that we just get through this unscathed. His jokes were tired, and they reflected what an out-of-touch person might think "cool" "edgy" people might like. But, I mean. For one, no one who is edgy would ever, ever, ever use that word.
We live in a time where we have various quick and easy platforms for broadcasting how much we dislike something, where Twitter swiftly declares almost everything an "epic fail" or "worst ever." We're all haters. And while that may soften the blow, it doesn't make criticism any less useful or valid.
Anticipating that backlash shouldn't ideally, simply lead someone to make jokes about that backlash -- it should make you want to present your best work. Your best jokes. Your best singing, the best dancing. Your very best quips about tanning or toupees, if that's what you're bringing to the table.
But MacFarlane didn't do that. He coasted by on the easy joke, the lazy joke, and he did it by resorting to the same stereotypes about, say, Latinos that we've already heard joked about (and, indeed, joked about better) many, many times before.
And there's also the reality that, while the Oscars are meant to celebrate and entertain, they don't necessarily have to make us laugh. They don't have to shock us. But they should lend us a sense of awe, a wonder, and a thrill at all the artistry and technical expertise at work in making films.
I hope that whoever is tapped to guide us through these 147 hours of award-giving next year -- MacFarlane or otherwise -- keeps that in mind.